New Year, New You! Give yourself the gift of better health in 2019.
Skip the vague resolutions – make a concrete health plan instead
It’s a fresh new year and time to make your New Year’s resolutions! In 2019, go beyond promising yourself a bit of weight loss and exercise – instead, go all out to give yourself and your family the healthiest, happiest version of you ever.
“Most people start the year with a vague resolution to get fitter and healthier, especially after too much festive indulgence,” says Sibonile Dube, Head of Communications & Public Affairs at Novartis South Africa. “But they tend to let these resolutions slide quite quickly because they don’t consider the many concrete steps they should take to ensure better health. By resolving to take specific actions that deliver immediate benefits, people can fast-track their efforts to become healthier this year.”
Instead of just promising yourself you’ll eat healthier food and get more exercise, make a health to-do list and actually follow through on it:
Work your medical aid
Make it your mission to study the benefits covered by your medical aid. Take advantage of discounts, free screenings, health events and other health-promoting efforts offered by your medical aid. Know your chronic illness benefits and take responsibility for actively managing your funds so that you don’t run out of medical savings half way through the year. And if your medical aid is not delivering what you need it to, now is the time to carefully research alternatives.
Take symptoms seriously
Don’t procrastinate in having worrying symptoms checked, because in most cases, serious conditions are treated most effectively when diagnosed early. If you’ve had any unexplained physical symptoms for longer than a few weeks, consult your doctor. These could range from a persistent cough or nagging aches and pains, through to moles that change shape or sores that don’t heal. Even symptoms that may be embarrassing – such as the scales and thickened skin of psoriasis – should not deter you from seeking treatment, as conditions such as these can be improved or even cured if detected early and treated properly.
Don’t overlook mental and emotional symptoms either. If you suffer from depression, apathy, extreme tiredness, unexplained forgetfulness, excessive anger or other symptoms for no apparent reason, consult a specialist.
Check your numbers
Start the year with screenings and health checks you’ve neglected – even if you feel healthy right now. Schedule an eye test, dental appointment, blood pressure and cholesterol check-up and diabetes screening. Discuss with your doctor what steps you need to take to improve your health. All women should have regular pap smears and those over the age of 45 should undergo mammograms, while men over the age of 40 need to have regular prostate examinations.
Look after number one
Don’t just resolve to exercise more and eat a healthier diet – commit to how much exercise you will get, and exactly how you will make your diet a healthier one. The World Health Organization (WHO) says regular exercise improves cardiorespiratory and muscular fitness and bone health, as well as reduces the risk of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as diabetes, heart disease and depression. The WHO recommends that adults aged 18–64 should do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week or do at least 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity activity. For additional health benefits, adults should increase their moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity to 300 minutes per week, and do muscle-strengthening activities involving major muscle groups on two or more days a week.1
The WHO says a healthy diet also helps to protect against NCDs including diabetes, heart disease, stroke and cancer. Among its recommendations are to ensure that total fat should not exceed 30% of total energy intake, with saturated fats making up less than 10% of total energy intake, and intake of trans-fats less than 1% of total energy intake, with industrially-produced trans-fats avoided altogether. Free sugars should ideally be limited to less than 5% of total energy intake, and salt intake should be limited to less than 5 g per day. For adults, a healthy diet should include fruit, vegetables, legumes (e.g. lentils and beans), nuts and whole grains (e.g. unprocessed maize, millet, oats, wheat and brown rice) and at least 400 g (i.e.: five portions) of fruit and vegetables per day.2
Drinking more water, reducing alcohol intake and quitting smoking are also all good ways to improve your health.
If you or your loved ones do suffer from chronic illness or rare conditions, there are support groups to help you cope. South African patient advocacy and support groups help address gaps in patient care, raise awareness or offer financial or other support. These groups include the likes of:
Rare Diseases South Africa, an association supporting those impacted by rare diseases.
Genetic Alliance South Africa, an organisation uniting patient support dedicated to congenital disorders including cleft lip and palate, cystic fibrosis, Down Syndrome, Lupus,Muscular Dystrophy, and pituitary conditions.
CANSA, the Cancer Association of South Africa offers a unique, integrated service to all people affected by cancer.